TRY SOMETHING NEW WITH KIDS THIS SUMMER

Have you tried something new with your kids lately? There’s still time this summer to plan an activity or adventure.

Karl Nelson, 40-year-old dad of two sons and executive of an educational nonprofit in Seattle, says introducing his boys to new experiences is vital for growth and learning about themselves and their world. He recently took his 5-year-old son Oskar, a curious boy who is always game for new adventures, sailing. “My task was to make sure he had a good enough time, so he’d want to do it again. Fortunately, his only complaint was the lack of snacks,” says Karl. Next time there will be plenty!

“Exposure to new ideas and concepts through experiential learning isn’t just something that happens at school,” says Karl. “Parents modeling lifelong learning at home is essential, like the day I picked up a violin 10 years ago in a quest to learn more about music. I started lessons and continue to this day. I like that my sons see (and hear!) their father practicing and improving over time. My efforts are also a reminder that we don’t just start out being good at something; it takes discipline and hard work.”

Gather your family to talk about activities that seem interesting, fun and perhaps a little out of the ordinary. Routines are important, but sometimes they become protective bubbles that need to be broken, or maybe just bent, for new perspective and growth.

Here are two ideas to get you inspired.

1. Join a family exercise program, such as outdoor yoga and/or stretch class at a community center or park in your area. Some are free. If there are non-swimmers in the family, check out your local YMCA or community center for swimming lessons to learn this important life skill.

2. Partner with an experienced camping family and spend a few days together in the wild hiking, fishing, cooking and enjoying the outdoors together. It’s a practical way to learn the ropes of camping and to get to know friends better. You might even start an annual tradition.
If sleeping in a tent is not your idea of fun, pack up a picnic and drive to a local park or nature preserve. Take a hike, play, build a campfire, roast some marshmallows and have all the fun of camping, then head home to your own beds at the end of the day.

WEEKLY PICTURE EVENT CALENDAR FOR PRESCHOOLERS

“When do we go to the zoo?” “When is Nate’s birthday party?” “When, when, when” is the repetitive question of kids of all ages, but as a parent of preschoolers, it’s especially challenging to answer the “when” questions if eager kids don’t yet read, write or comprehend the days of the week.

That was a parenting challenge for 35-year-old neonatologist and mom of two, Dr. Anna Hedstrom. So, she recruited her mother-in-law, retired fourth-grade teacher Judy Hedstrom, to help her and her husband Karl develop a hands-on strategy for their 3-year-old son Parker to understand what’s up on their weekly schedule.

To create an event calendar, Judy organized family photos of familiar faces in Parker’s life, and found images of day-to-day routines and outings from free online photos. She used them to make easy-to-handle, Velcro-backed activity cards Parker could attach to color-coded days of the week.

It works! “The Parker’s Week calendar gets him involved in a playful way to understand when activities will take place,” say the parents. On Sundays, they talk about the coming week as he attaches cards representing routine events like school, as well as special activities such as going to the zoo. Now, six months later, he has figured out how to do the “regulars” himself.

Enjoy making one adapted to your family lifestyle with your preschooler.

Here’s the stuff you need:
–1 22-by-28-inch poster board cut in half widthwise
–cardstock sheets in different colors
–copied photos and images of people and activities in child’s life
–household glue
–self-stick Velcro
–magnets or art hooks for hanging

Here’s the fun:
1. For the header section of the activity calendar, print a title such as “EMILY’S WEEK” on a 12-by-4-inch strip of cardstock. Add a photo of the child next to it, and glue in place on the poster board.

2. On the short end of seven 3-by-11-inch tall colored strips of cardstock, print the days of the week. Line up strips vertically in a row, and glue under the title strip.

3. Cut 3-by-3-inch cards for representing routine activities and special events. Print photos and images of outings and glue to cards. Label each activity. For example: School, Library, Soccer, Haircut, Doctor visit, Birthday party, Dad off work, Surprise!

4. Laminate cards and entire calendar at a copy store (optional, but recommended).

5. Attach one half of Velcro pieces in a vertical line under days of the week, and attach the matching pieces on the backs of cards. Hang the calendar with magnets or art hooks at child’s height.
Store cards not in use in a box or file near the calendar.

SUMMER OUTDOOR FUN

Summertime invites all ages to experience a big dose of creativity, because you can enjoy so many artful, and sometimes messy, activities outdoors.

If you have a block party coming up in your neighborhood, a family reunion or a birthday party, here are classic ideas with clever twists to engage kids’ imaginations and show off their creative side.

The basics? A long portable table covered with newspaper and the supplies to draw everyone in.

FACE PAINTING

Set out hand mirrors for “selfie” face painting using watercolor pencils dipped in water, or use this face paint recipe. Hold a mirror in one hand while drawing with the other. Kids and adults also will have fun painting one another’s faces.

Face Paint Recipe:
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon cold cream
Liquid food coloring in a variety of colors
Small paintbrush
Small recycled yogurt-style container for each color
Stir together cornstarch and cold cream in a container until blended. Add water and stir. Add coloring, one drop at a time, until you get desired color.
Paint on faces with a small paintbrush or use a cotton swab.

MAKE A GOOEY GOOP CONCOCTION

Kids enjoy just about anything that’s gooey, slithery and slimy. Here’s a crowd-pleaser.
8-ounce bottle of white household glue such as Elmer’s
8 ounces water
Liquid poster paint (optional)
Small and large mixing bowls
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons borax powder
Stir together glue, 8 ounces water and a few drops of paint (optional) in large bowl. In small bowl, mix warm water and borax. Slowly pour the borax mixture into the glue mixture. Swirl mixture with your hands, and in seconds goop will form into gooey glops as it oozes from your grasp. Pick it up, squeeze it, and play.
Note: If it gets on clothing, wash out quickly with soap and water.

SALAD SPINNER ART

Remove the lid of an old salad spinner that you use for crafts, and set a round paper plate in the middle.

Fix it to the nodule at the center of the bottom of the spinner with a piece of clay.

Pick three liquid poster paints and drop puddles near the center of the plate.

Pop the top of the spinner back on and give the crank a whirl for 5-8 seconds. Let it wind down, and remove the top. See the explosion of color spread in all directions. If you wish, add more paint and a pinch of glitter, and spin again. Remove plate, let it dry and display when you get back home.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS ARE A TASTE OF SUMMER

Tell your kids that they can be the “King and Queen of Tarts” when they make this gem of a summer dessert. The fresh fruit ingredients from your local market or fruit stand are luscious and good by themselves, but when they’re combined with a cookie base, you’ll have a “WOW” can’t-miss finale to a barbecue or outdoor get-together with friends.

These cookie fruit tarts are super simple to assemble and look “tres francais,” but there’s no from-scratch pastry with mini fluted rims that you have to fuss over. Instead, the easy recipe starts with good, large sugar cookies you purchase at your bakery or grocery store.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS
Makes 8
–8 large sugar cookies or your favorite plain round cookie
–8-ounce package of cream cheese
–1/3 cup white or vanilla chips (find them in the baking section of your store)
–assorted fresh fruit and berries for toppings, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and sliced peaches and plums, washed and dried
–1/4 cup currant jelly or powdered sugar (optional)

Set cookies on a work surface such as a cutting board.

Place cream cheese in a medium-size mixing bowl.

In a microwave-safe dish, melt chips, spoon into cream cheese and stir until smooth.

Spread the mixture evenly over the cookies. Let kids arrange the fresh fruit and berries in pretty designs on the top.

Meanwhile, if you would like a glaze, an adult should melt the jelly in a saucepan. Cool. Let kids drizzle or lightly brush with a pastry brush over the fruit to glaze the tarts.

Or, dust over each tart with powdered sugar.

Arrange on a serving platter.

Variations:
–Get creative with the presentation and decorate the serving platter or top the tarts with coconut flakes, sprigs of mint leaves, tiny blooms of edible flowers or fresh lavender.

–Make a larger quantity of bite-size tarts using packaged cookies such as gingersnaps.

–Instead of using cookies, make a larger single tart. Press prepared piecrust from the refrigerated section of your market on the base and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Prick sides and bottom. Bake according to package directions. Cool. Spread cream cheese mixture on the base, arrange fruit attractively, and brush on the glaze.

MAKE LAMPSHADE THAT’S OUT OF THIS WORLD

Have your summer outings taken your family to a planetarium or a space exhibit at a science museum, or did you take a trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida? Maybe you enjoyed camping at a state or national park under a starlit sky.

Whatever your adventure, capture the memory with a space-age craft that’s fun, practical and will keep your child’s curiosity about space alive. Decorate a plain, smooth lampshade you already have, or purchase an inexpensive version to create your night-sky theme. With just a few supplies from around the house, you and your kids can make an out-of-this-world shade to brighten a bedroom or family room.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–Plain, standard smooth white lampshade
–Sheets of tissue paper in several colors (we used navy blue and shades of purple)
–Household white glue diluted with a few drops of water to create a milkshakelike consistency
–Paintbrush
–1-inch glow-in-the-dark adhesive-backed stars
–Darning needle
–Sturdy craft wire
–Medium and large buttons, beads, star-shaped charms and baubles with holes

Here’s the fun:

1. Tear tissue paper into 1-inch-by-1-inch pieces. This is a fun job for preschoolers. Older children might prefer cutting straight-sided squares or rectangles with scissors.

2. Set the lampshade on a newspaper-covered work surface. Paint an outside section with the glue-and-water mixture over the top of the tissue paper and smooth each piece out with your fingers. When the shade is covered, finish it off with a coating of glue and water. Let dry.

3. Attach glow-in-the dark stars here and there on the tissue-paper-covered exterior, then use the darning needle to poke about 6-8 holes evenly around the top edge of the shade.

4. Now it’s time to put planets and stars jutting outward in space, circling the shade. Start with a 10-inch length of wire. Poke and twist in place one end through the holes of a large flat button to represent a planet or the sun. Loop the opposite end of the wire through one of the holes in the shade.
Bend the wire outward so that it looks like it is suspended in space around the shade. Continue attaching a single charm, bead or button to additional pieces of cut wire to represent the International Space Station, the moon, stars and even a rocketship. Vary lengths. The sky’s the limit when it comes to expressing your creativity.

5. Attach the shade to your lamp base to light up a desk, night table or dresser.

THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION BOX

I’ve been doing an informal survey with friends, asking them to rate the most popular kids’ collectibles accumulating in their homes. The results?

Rocks rock!

Rocks were No. 1, followed by shells at a close No. 2 position. Leaves, sticks and pine cones trailed, tying for third place. Surprisingly, none of the top picks were toys, CDs or collectible trinkets from a fast-food kids’ meal.

Kids not only instinctively collect nature finds when they are outdoors, but they also love to tuck them away in special places like jacket pockets, egg cartons and empty shoe boxes.

Here’s a practical idea for storing and displaying growing collections all year round. Pick up a hardware storage box with rows of plastic drawers that slide in and out of the front side and are intended for screws, bolts and nails. Find a used box at a garage sale, or buy a new one at a hardware store — a nice gift idea for your collector’s summer birthday.

If you find a used box, spiff it up by covering the outside with colorful adhesive-backed paper. Glue travel stickers or postcards on the outside to decorate it.

To help your child categorize the drawers, use a paint pen to write the name of the contents. For example: Leaf Collection, Rock Collection, Bark Collection, etc.

Introduce your child to new collections, too. At a beach, fill a small plastic canister with sand. Label it with the name of the beach. Collect more as you travel, and store the bottles in the “sand collection” drawer when you return home.

Extra ideas:
–If your collection box has large drawers on the bottom, make mini dioramas with souvenirs. Glue a photo or postcard on the back of the drawer for a background, then glue small items to create a mini scene on the base of the drawer.
–To cover the drawers when not in use, tape a large piece of cardboard the size of the front of the box along the base of the box to resemble a hinged flap that
opens and closes. Poke a hole at the top of the cardboard so that you can loop a ribbon and bead through it and tie to a handle to keep it shut.

PLASTER CASTING ART AT A SANDY BEACH

Heading for the beach by the sea or a lake? Along with towels, sunscreen and flip flops, bring along a carton of plaster of Paris, a paper cup and an empty quart-size can or plastic recycled food container to make a unique piece of natural art that will last — and decorate your yard or deck when you get back home.

You can even make a terrific creation in your own backyard sandbox if you don’t live near the water. If your kids have made plaster handprints in school, they’ll be familiar with the following and easy how-tos.

To make a mold in damp sand, use your hands to scoop out a free-form design at least 2 inches deep. If you are at an ocean beach, just be sure the tide won’t be coming in for at least a couple of hours. You also may make a mold using toys such as a plastic fish or crab. Press the toy into the sand to make the shape, and then remove the toy. Any connecting areas in your design should be at least 2 inches wide to keep the final plaster project from breaking. To add interest, press some natural objects you collect on the beach into the base of the sand mold, such as shells, rocks, twigs and bark or driftwood.

Pour a cup or two of fresh or seawater into the disposable container. Add the powdered plaster according to directions on the box and stir with a stick. The mixture should be smooth and thick like a milkshake. Don’t overstir, however, as this causes the mixture to set up too quickly and weakens the final product. Immediately pour the mixture into your sand mold, spreading it evenly to all areas with a stick, if necessary.

To make a hanger for your art, poke a paper clip halfway into the plaster at the center top as the plaster thickens. If the project is large, you may wish to position two paper clips evenly spaced from each side.
Allow the plaster to harden for about an hour and a half, depending on the size of the mold, and then carefully remove the plaster souvenir from the sand. Dispose of leftover hard plaster in a trash can.

Take a picture of your pleased kids holding their creations before you head home. Wrap your art loosely with newspaper, and let it dry and harden completely. Glue on additional decorations, if you wish.

NOTE: Never pour liquid plaster down a drain.

MAKE DELICIOUS AND ECONOMICAL SLOW COOKER YOGURT

We’re a yogurt-loving family. We wake up to it topped with crunchy granola and fruit, or it’s whirled with other good stuff in the blender for energy-packed smoothies to go. It’s an easy-to-pack car travel snack, the basic ingredient in homemade popsicles and everyone around the dinner table enjoys rich, lemony-flavored yogurt over summer berries for dessert.

No wonder my ears perked up when a friend said she makes yogurt in her slow cooker. “Hmm,” I thought. “Why add yogurt-making to my already busy schedule when I can just pick it up at the store?” Then, when curiosity took over, I did some research to test it out. Much to my amazement, after a couple of easy steps in two timed intervals in the afternoon, I woke up the following morning to perfect, creamy, organic yogurt. Lots of it! Astounded, I ladled the more-than-we-could-use bounty into mason jars and shared the creamy deliciousness with my neighbors. Now they’re hooked.

Lesson learned: The next time around, I halved my original recipe and got a yield of 7 cups. Give it a try with your kids. It’s cost-effective, nutrient-rich and provides a memorable experience in kitchen science.

MAKE YOGURT IN A SLOW COOKER
Makes 7 cups
8 cups whole milk (I use organic)
Food thermometer for testing milk temperature
1/2 cup whole-milk, unflavored (plain) yogurt with live/active cultures for starter
Thick bath or beach towel
Storage containers with lids
1. Midafternoon, pour milk into your slow cooker and turn setting to low. Cover. Set a timer for 2 1/2 hours.
2. At 2 1/2 hours, use a kitchen thermometer to check that milk has reached 180-185 F.
3. Turn off, unplug, cover, and let the milk temp drop to around 115 F. Skim any milk film off the top of the milk with a spoon.
4. Remove 1 cup of the warmed milk and combine with room temperature yogurt in a small bowl. Gently stir.
5. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and stir with a couple of strokes.
6. Cover and wrap the towel all around the slow cooker to help insulate. Culture 8-12 hours overnight.
7. In the morning, stir yogurt and ladle into storage containers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before eating. Save 1/2 cup to use as a starter for your next batch.
Cook’s note: For variety, make Greek-style yogurt. Spoon two cups of the slow cooker yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Let the liquid (whey) drip through for about 30 minutes. Makes 1 1/4 cups of yummy thick yogurt. Delicious!

RECOGNIZE PEOPLE AND PLACES WITH BOX PUZZLE PLAY

What’s on your summer calendar? Fourth of July celebrations, picnics at the park or a family reunion far from home? For your preschoolers, the friendly faces at these summertime gatherings of cousins, aunts, uncles and friends might seem puzzling at first. Who are all these people?

Here’s a playful way to prepare your child (and maybe even you!) for these special events before you go. Make fun and easy recycled cereal box puzzles featuring photos of the faces they will be seeing and places they’ll be visiting in coming weeks. Instead of asking, “Who’s that?” as Uncle Pete scoops ice cream at the reunion dessert bar, you might hear: “Hey, mommy — he’s the guy in my puzzle!”

Before you begin, scroll through your photo library and look for a group photo of people you’ll be seeing, and photos of homes or landmarks of places on your itinerary. You’ll be enlarging the images and cutting them into rectangular puzzle pieces to adapt to the size of the boxes.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for one puzzle set of two images (one on the front and one on the back of the boxes):
–9 small, empty rectangular single-portion cereal boxes
–2 photocopied photographs of extended family members, and/or a place where you will be traveling (about 8-inches by 12-inches)
–paint, or wide colored tape
–scissors
–household glue or spray craft glue
–Empty grapefruit or orange net bag for storage (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. Lay one photo or piece of art face down on a table. Line the boxes side by side on the backside of the photocopy in three vertical rows. Draw around each box with a pencil, and then cut out the pieces.
2. Cover the printing on the sides of the food boxes with paint or colored packing tape, then glue the paper photo pieces on the front of each box.
3. Turn the boxes over, and add another photo following the same instructions.
4. To play, mix up the boxes and start puzzling them on one side, then the other. Say the names of the people or places as you go. Tell your child how they are related, and share a story or two about individual people.
When done, I like to keep these puzzle pieces in empty net bags. If you weave a string through the tops, you can hang them on a hook for easy storage between play.
Extra idea: For a mini puzzle, use a set of same-size boxes in smaller sizes, such as single-portion raisin boxes. Adjust the dimensions of the enlarged photos to fit accordingly.

RECYCLE A PLASTIC BOTTLE INTO A SHARK-THEMED PLANTER FOR SUCCULENTS


A few years ago, a friend inspired me to pot a succulent container garden. I discovered that trendy jade, aeonium and echeveria are the most forgiving, low-maintenance sun-loving plants I could ever grow on our deck in the summer and indoors during Minnesota’s winter chill. And they are easy to propagate. Break off an offshoot from a larger plant, stick it in the soil, and a new plant will root and grow.

No matter the season, why not encourage your young child to grow his own succulents and plant them in a container he is familiar with: a plastic soda or water bottle? It’s a fun craft project to upcycle a liter size into a planter, and decorate it to enhance bedroom or family room decor. If he’s fascinated with sea life, how about a shark?

Here’s the stuff you’ll need to make a fish-themed planter:
–1 empty liter size soda or water bottle with lid, label removed
–markers
–craft foam sheets in 3-4 colors
–non-toxic craft glue
–craft paint and brush (optional)
–fast-draining soil, like cactus potting mix
–pebbles
–3 small succulent plants

Here’s the fun:
Set the bottle on its side. Let your child measure and draw a 2-inch-by-6-inch rectangle lengthwise where the label was removed. An adult should cut out the rectangle. (Tip: use a pushpin to poke a few holes in the plastic on a line for ease in getting the cutting started.) The opening will be the top of the planter.
Use the craft foam to decorate the outside of the bottle to look like a shark. The spout with lid already looks like a fish mouth. Refer to a picture or photo of a shark in a book or online to sketch and cut out shapes resembling a shark’s mouth, eyes, gills, fins and tail. Glue cutouts to the bottle. Add details with craft paint, if you wish. Let dry.
Scoop a half-inch layer of pebbles into the bottle and about 1 1/2 inches of damp potting soil. Plant succulents, sprinkle more pebbles around them and display in a sunny spot.

Let your child care for the plants by giving them a drink of water when the soil is thoroughly dried out.